This is the fourth of four stories featuring food trucks from Labette County that are serving Parsons and area communities. Food truck fare has grown in popularity in recent years.
As fast as new food trucks and trailers are coming in, they go out of business as life takes people in different directions.
While J.R. Keene was preparing to open Outsider Tacos, Colborn’s Kitchen announced its closure in July after 4 1/2 years. Costa’s Cuisine has gone out of business as it plans for a new business venture. Blade & Co. is next in line, having planned on closing its trailer after Katy Days. With that opportunity gone, Blade & Co. owner Blade Smith said he may offer one more opening somewhere in Parsons before he says goodbye for good.
“I’m going to sell it because I’m going to go back to school,” Smith said. “This year’s just been trying to find out what I want to do, getting married and all that stuff. The food truck is a lot of hard work and a lot of time to put into it, and my new wife wants to start a family here soon. I don’t think I could give the food truck enough time with that much stuff. It pays for itself, but it’s not enough to raise a family on right now.”
Smith has an associate’s degree in business and plans to wrap up a bachelor’s degree in the same area. His plan then is to apply to law school. If it doesn’t work out, he is not worried. If it does, it does. He doesn’t know what kind of law he will practice, but coming from a medical family he said it is probably going to be medical or estate law.
While he is excited for his new journey in life, leaving the food truck business is not easy.
“I’ve always liked making food, and I’ve always been the one to craft stuff. Instead of doing manual labor, food was always easier for me, and people liked it. I used to be a pretty big dude and food was just a passion of mine, so I always try to make food I like,” he said. “When I like something, it tends to go over well with other people.”
In 2018 he was just getting out of junior college, finishing up his associate’s degree, when a food trailer came up for sale in Kansas City. He thought it looked really nice, and it was affordable.
“So I kind of pulled the trigger on it,” he said. “The first year, 2018, we basically did Music in the Park and were finding our footing in that. Then 2019 I think we did events here and there. Then 2020, when COVID hit, we started parking over at the ice machine (North 16th Street, north of ParCom), doing that three days a week,” he said. “It was great business.”
Now, he tries not to think about that as he puts the trailer up for sale.
“It’s not fully paid for but almost, so I want to get the money back from that so I have less debt going into college. But people are making it hard to quit the food truck. They are,” he said, laughing. “I get multiple calls a week seeing if I want to come here and do this, and I’m like, ‘I’m trying to stop it.’ It’s very in demand.”
For anyone wanting to operate a food trailer, this is a great time to do so, he said, if they have enough time, energy and money to start.
The time and energy it takes varies depending on the size of the menu and what is being served. Smith said the first year and a half he was working, he would change his menu quite a bit. Then they moved to just doing specialty burgers and specialty fries and chicken strips with specialty sauces.
“This year I did Cherokee County Fair while Labette County Fair was going on and I stopped doing the chicken because the sauces take so long. The more things you have on the menu, the longer it takes you to prep, and just with five fries and five burgers on the menu at Cherokee it took us a day and a half to prep to get a good amount of preparedness for the fair. Then, after every night, I would come in the morning the next day and prep more stuff because we’d run out a lot. The prep time for even doing the ice machine is a lot,” he said. “I would wake up about 6 in the morning and prep all the way to 11. Then we’d be out from 11 to 2 and go again 4 to 7, and in between time we were working getting things ready.”
From prep time to end time led to about 15 and 16 hour days. At the end of the day, there is still all the cleanup, evaluating what needs replenished, restocking those items and determining what needs replenished for prep the next morning. In between working events, there is replenishing items that are out or running low and keeping up with the accounting.
“It’s a lot of work,” Smith said. “I don’t think people realize how much work goes into a food truck, or a restaurant, or anything like that. When you run a restaurant, you hire a manager to run things for you when you can’t be there. I have not met a food truck owner that has one of those — someone else to come and do something. It is going to be you. You might have somebody to help set up and things like that, but you are going to be the one doing everything.
“I love making food and the food truck. It’s just you have to have enough time. You have to have enough money, and my biggest regret is having such a big menu. Have a small menu. Having a small menu means less prep time and things to keep track of.”
While the overhead isn’t that of brick and mortar restaurants, there is still overhead. Just for starters, before ever shopping for food, there are payments on the truck/trailer and equipment, insurance, inspections, permits and licenses, gasoline and supplies.
There is also the cost involved in where a vendor is parking. Some events and festivals charge a percentage of food sales (usually about 10 to 15%) while some charge a fixed flat fee per day, week or event. About the only time there isn’t a fee to park in a public space is when the vendor is being hired for a corporate event. Then the vendor usually charges a flat fee based on the number of people they will be serving. Smith said mobile caterers tend to pay more to park at festivals where it is considered to be a captive audience.
“I think a spot for Neewollah was $1,200. I never got to do Neewollah, and I lived in Indy then and went to school in Indy, and they weren’t gracious enough to give that to me,” Smith said.
He doesn’t share these things to discourage, but to raise awareness of what it takes to operate a food truck so people know what they are taking on. For most who decide to pursue it, there is usually a high level of passion involved for what they are doing that helps them succeed.
Smith is proud to be leaving his business on a high note as he moves on to pursue new successes.
“It’s hard to quit though when people are patting you on the back,” he said. “Make sure what you have is good and people will keep coming back.”